Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Watching the Cafe Workers: Part 2

April 19th, 2010 · 1 Comment

The second co-worker of mine that stands out in my mind does everything he or she can to do exactly the opposite of that. This person is, as Kate Fox would describe, the typical socially dis-eased English person. In no way is this person rude; rather, he or she is simply silent as to not ever ask what could be deemed as an invasive question. While we Americans appreciate boundaries, we will tend to ask where someone is from, what they enjoy doing, and even dare to inquire about one’s name. The socially dis-eased English person will never dive into such murky waters and this co-worker displays this quality exceptionally well.

Before continuing this description anymore, let me pause to detail my understanding of what the term ‘socially dis-eased’ even means. It’s not a term I enjoy using. It does seem rather unfair to the people being described as it paints them as almost perpetually uncomfortable and uncomforting. This hasn’t been my experience at all in England! People have always been polite and kind but, beyond just those qualities, I have found many to be chatty and warm-spirited. I was invited to spend the winter holidays with a family who had never met me simply because they are a kind family that after hearing that I would not be with my own family on Christmas demanded (without hesitation I might add) that I spend the time with them. They did more than only offer me a spot to stay for a few days. They included me in all their celebrations, treated me like family in their jokes, gift-giving, and chore responsibilities, and never asked for anything in return. The term social dis-ease seems to rob such people of their kindness. Having stressed just how welcoming I have found the English people to be, I have to concede that I agree with Fox that most do have this social dis-ease that she describes. It’s not a rudeness. It’s a highly peaked fear of coming across as too bold, too pushy, too loud, too out of the norm. There is a time and place to be creative, forceful, boisterous, and quirky. Introductions and, often times, the work place do not fall into the category of those acceptable times and places; therefore, one has a great opportunity when finding oneself in a working environment to observe the very social dis-ease that Fox finds so prevalent in the English culture.

I’ll re-enact my introduction to this co-worker to best portray the dis-ease of the situation. Keep in mind that his or her side of the conversation never exceeded anything much above a whisper.  I’ll note myself as ‘A’ for Audrey and the co-worker as ‘P’ for person to make things clear.

A: Hi. I’m Audrey. I just started volunteering today.

P: Oh hello. Nice to meet you.

A: It’s nice to meet you too. What can I help with?

P: I don’t know. You’ll have to wait for the boss. I don’t think I’m allowed to tell you what to do.

A: Oh ok…that makes sense.

P: Normally people do the washing up first thing in the morning. That’s not to say that you should because the boss might want you to do something different. That’s just what some people do when they first start here. Not that you can only wash up, I’m sure you can do many things well. Maybe you should just wait for the boss.

A: Ok, I’ll do that. Thanks. [Pause]. So, have you been volunteering here long?

P: Awhile.

A: Oh. [Pause] Good! You’ll be able to show me the ropes then. I tend to have a knack for putting things away in the wrong place [Attempted laugh]

P: [Without laughing] I’m sure you’ll figure it out. The system is rather simple actually.

A: [Stops laughing awkwardly] Right. Other people have figured it out just fine. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it soon! Hopefully! [Another attempted giggle]

P: [Again, without laughing] We have a lot of volunteers rotating through here so it’s as simple as it can be. You’ll be fine.

A: [Again, awkwardly stops laughing] Right. [Pause] [Pause] [Pause] So, the weather is awfully chilly today.

P: It’s not so bad. Just need a jacket and you get through it.

The conversation continued painfully slowly as we continued to wait for the boss to come from around the corner. I considered multiple times going up to where the boss was to directly ask her what I could start doing. Scared that that might violate some social norm, I decided to hang back and forge through a conversation with P. In that conversation never did I learn P’s name, his or her occupation, interests, age, involvement with the Greenhouse Trust. We were simply to co-volunteers existing in the same place with a task at hand. No additional information had to be shared between us. My insistence in trying to start up conversation that broached these subjects was as annoying and uncommon to this co-worker as his or her refusal to give any information or make any small talk was to me. It’s this type of aversion to small talk, this tendency to remain unknown and unknowing until a familiarity with the other person has been established, that Kate Fox described and that I’m witnessing first hand in my volunteer experience.

Tags: Audrey

The Wounds of a Community.

April 19th, 2010 · 1 Comment

“In every community there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal.”

Our communities, the ecosystems of our society, the summation of individuals is often confronted with major challenges, and no communal struggle can be measured and compared; Norwich is no different from New York City. Essentially, the differences between the two are countless, yet there is one particular similarity regarding community sustainability worth looking at. Walking through both cities it is hard to miss the sight of kids/teenagers ages 13-17 roaming the streets, gathering in corners and ‘disturbing the community’ (it would be unreasonable to assume every group of kids, usually boys, is out to cause trouble, but I am referencing a particular segment of the population who clearly is). As I walked to meet with my mentee I came across this group of kids in Norwich, and as an aspiring educator my first thought was: “why are they not in school right now?”That day, my mentee and I had one of the most profound conversations, afterall, we both found ourselves bound by a common issue within our individual communities (across the world): “little gangsters.”

We both agreed that every community, regardless of its geographical placement, is injured by social diseases, which more than often includes child poverty— leading to violence and crime. My mentee, shared some of his own experiential knowledge with me regarding these kids. He claims that there is a particular group of them who sell drugs for an older (possibly adult) guy, afterall, the police would never stop a 13 year old for selling drugs. He claims they work with a “wanna-be gangster mentality,” meaning they are attempting to become the future leaders of gangs, the ‘kings’ of the drug industry: the next statistic of “ethnic minorities” who fail the system. Yet according to the news, crime rates are continuing to drop in the city of Norwich.

According to Ben Kendall, in his article titled “Big fall in Norwich crime rates,” from the Norwich Evening News “Almost 2,000 fewer crimes were committed in Norwich during the past year as police recorded significant reductions in burglaries, violent offences and anti-social behaviour.” The Latest figures show that during the last three months:

~Burglaries fell by 12.5% compared to the last period last year.

~Violent crime fell by 14.6% across Norwich and by more than 30pc in city centre areas including Prince of Wales Road.

~Robberies fell by 19%, vehicle crime by 4% and anti-social behaviour by 19%.

Norwich’s poorest areas are experiencing what is left of crime, as city officials claim to be having a solid impact on the recent decrease, there is still a wound too deep to ignore and not easy enough to heal. My mentee suggests, just how there are multiple programs instituted in order to aid refugees and asylum seekers both integrate and progress in British society and most especifically in the city of Norwich, there needs to be an increase int he number of organizations triggering the “little gangsters” populations. Although there is somewhat of an overlapping between the population of refugees and that of kids on the streets, the target needs to be set clear in oder to help all kids to stay away from drugs, crime and violence.

Joining together as individual parts of a community we can work together to heal the wounds that inflict the future welfare of everyone who is a part of it; my mentee understands this.  As a part of the Norwich community he assures me he has and will continue to act as a part of the movement for change, ‘getting kids off the streets is going to be hard’ he says, but in response I suggest “no one said it would be easy.” (My mentee claims our program director, as well as the kid’s parents would never believe it if they knew what their children are doing on the streets, so he is fixed on not telling; I disagreed, but he has asked me to keep to not tell).

Tags: Flow · Uncategorized